Originally constructed in 1957, Laguna Seca is our granddaddy of race-track venues. Nestled in a quiet valley in the California Coastal Range, it has hosted many legendary races, and continues to be a stopping point for many of the top racing series. Each year, on addition to the regular season of spectacular events at Laguna Seca (Spanish for “dry lakebed”), our Club looks forward to a few special dates. During several major racing weekends, our chapter hosts hospitality areas and exclusive parking areas, or club corrals. These corrals provide our members a rare opportunity to get VIP treatment. Often, we get to meet and talk with professional race drivers and team members. Combine this with an exciting day of watching the races, and members leave with memories they will never forget.
Memories of another kind are born from the rare days our chapter is blessed with a date for a high-performance-driving school (HPDS) track day at Laguna Seca. As a student, you’ll get to experience the historic 2.238mile, eleven-turn track for yourself.
There’s the thrill of the long hairpin of Turn Two, the flat and fast Turns Three and Four; then you brake into Turn Five before powering into the uphill section through Turn Six. As you crest the hill at Seven, suddenly you get the sense that you’re on a wonderful drive on top of a ridge—but don’t daydream, because Turn Eight drops you into the famous Corkscrew.
As you entering the Corkscrew, the world quickly drops out from under you, and gravity now assists acceleration! Brake before Turn Nine, then snake through Turn Ten until you reach the brake-pad-brutal Turn Eleven. A quick acute left turn puts you on the front straight, where you floor the pedal under the bridge, heading for the slight bend of Turn One. On a typical day you’ll leave after four driving sessions and, perhaps, a few instructor rides.
At the northern tip of San Francisco Bay, you’ll find another track we call home, Sonoma Raceway (formerly known as Sears Point). An easy drive for many of our members, this track offers the ultimate in close-to-home action.
Constructed in 1968, this multipurpose track hosts both a drag strip and a world-class road course. Like Laguna Seca, this track calls many of the top race series to its blacktop. You’ll find us there mostly for the road-course events—but there are a few who enjoy trying out their straight-line skills.
When we are there as spectators, you’ll typically find our Club corral atop Turn Two. There you’ll gather among your fellow marque fans, perched at one of the best places to view the raceway’s action. Turn Two never fails to provide a spectacle, as the cars get light from cresting the hill and storm into this off-camber corner, which leads for a lot of tail-happy racing!
If you’d rather drive than watch, then you’re in luck, as our chapter also gets to challenge ourselves on this track with our own cars. On our driving-school days, members get to experience this highly technical course. Love it or hate it, you’ll find that there is no down time at Sears Point!
From the moment you enter the twelve-turn, 2.52-mile track at Turn One, it seems this track is all about memory, blind corners, short straights, and remembering to breathe. Your first lesson comes at our favorite hangout, Turn Two: Easy on the gas, or you’ll soon find yourself facing the wrong way on a one-way road! Then Turns Three and Three-A come in quick succession; here, you crest a blind hill and—when you do it right—drift out just to the edge of the track.
Nail the right-hander at Four and play with lateral grip as you sweep through Turn Five. Turn Six is the famous Carousel; as you approach, it’s another dance over a hill before spiraling down through the long, sweeping left. Get it right, and you are at full acceleration as you enter the straight chute to Seven. Get a nice trail-brake going into that bobby-pin curve, and life is good!
The slalom of Turns Eight and Eight-A sets you up for Nine and Ten. After Nine, move over to track left, and nail the entry into Ten. Then it’s time for some heavy braking for the low-speed hairpin at Eleven; its exit brings you to Turn Twelve, which shoots you into the drag race back to Turn One, and you’re on your way around all over again.
Make your way north past Sacramento on I-5, and you can experience the excitement of a lesser-known hidden gem, Thunderhill Raceway. Unlike our other two tracks, this one doesn’t draw big series like NASCAR or IndyCar—which can be a good thing. While you won’t find huge grandstands, or miles of vendors, you will find a venue focused on club racing and the weekend warrior crowd, making a more affordable rental fee for clubs. Free trailer-power hookups, too!
Thunderhill is the home of the popular 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Or you can witness one of the 24 Hours of LeMons races—the infamous endurance race series for $500 cars. Chances are you’ll see someone you know, racing or working on a team. But most of the time, the track is used by clubs like the BMW CCA for driving schools or racing. Owned by the SCCA, this configurable three or five mile track was conceived and constructed with safety and
education in mind. Its layout has examples of just about every type of corner you’ll ever find on a track, and it can be run either clockwise or counter-clockwise. With lots of dirt run-off areas, it’s a less intimidating place, if ever one of those lapses in concentration bites you.
A typical counter-clockwise run on the three mile course goes something like this: Enter on one of the fastest corners of the track. Remember to check your mirrors before merging over into the apex. Then it’s a short straight into the sweeping right-hander of Turn Two. Here’s where you really practice your throttle steer as you dance around a seemingly endless corner. Then it’s into the off-camber right-hand Turn Three, where you set up for the left-hander at Four; swing too wide, and you’ll pay for it. Now it’s up the hill toward Turn Five, a section called the Cyclone: It was designed to give drivers the experience of the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca. There you make a lighter-than-air left turn before the drop that leads to a right-hand sweeper that sets you up for left-hand Turn Six. After a fast, flat left turn around Seven, you prepare for the “Yes, the tires will hold!” Turn Eight, where you test your conviction and skill. When you nail it, it’s a thing of joy as you try to push the throttle past the firewall.
Racing up to crest the hill at Turn Nine, you head down the short straight for the banked left-hander at Ten. Brake hard for the 90-degree left at Eleven before making your way through the capital-S of Turns Twelve and Twelve-A. Work hard to set yourself up for a
fast exit and you’ll be rewarded.
Now it’s time to glance at your gauges, check for anybody who needs to pass you, and get ready for the acute long left U-turn at Fourteen. As you exit, unwind the wheel and set up for the right-hand Turn Fifteen—make that one, and congratulations: You’re now one of those people to watch for on the entry to Turn One!